Why the backups on Interstate 275 in Tampa?

I know, it’s been a long while since I posted here at the Interstate 275 Florida Blog but I have been so busy of lately.  However, I have seen plenty of backups out there on Interstate 275, so let’s get started.

On one weekend the northbound lanes of Interstate 275 in Tampa were narrowed to one lane resulting in enormous traffic backups, sometimes backed up as far as the hump of the Howard Frankland Bridge, as a result of the reconstruction project taking place.  Why the backups?

Usually, lane closures are scheduled during the nighttime hours when traffic is at its lightest.  But why the closures during the day, especially when you have people coming out of a Rays game at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg among other things?  A lane closure or two can translate into potential gridlock, especially during the morning and/or evening commute.

Then you got your usual backups on northbound Interstate 275 in Tampa just as you come off the Howard Frankland Bridge during the evening commute.  This is something we’re used to on a daily basis.

My take on the backups on Interstate 275 is this:

I think the Florida DOT could have done something better before the first shovel of dirt was turned on the Interstate 275 mega-reconstruction project from FL 60 (Exit 39) to Ashley Drive/Tampa Street/Scott Street (Exit 44) as far as commuters and other users of Interstate 275 are concerned.  That something better can be found 200 miles to the southeast:  Fort Lauderdale when Interstate 95 was reconstructed.

And the solution while Interstate 95 was being reconstructed was commuter rail, and out of that Tri-Rail was born.  Tri-Rail was supposed to be a temporary commute alternative; however, once all was said and done on Interstate 95 the ridership on Tri-Rail was so popular with Fort Lauderdale/Miami area commuters that Tri-Rail became a permanent fixture of the South Florida transit landscape, giving its residents a sensible choice.

Why couldn’t the Florida DOT implement at least a temporary commuter rail alternative while Interstate 275 in Tampa is being reconstructed?  The existing CSX railroad tracks that run from Tampa to St. Petersburg through Clearwater I believe could have been put to good passenger use; after all, the last time passenger trains ran on that line was in 1984 when Amtrak discontinued service into St. Petersburg.

However, rail based mass transit in the Tampa Bay region is indeed garnering more and more support.  Once the Interstate 275 mega-reconstruction project in Tampa is done, the median will be wide enough to accommodate a possible commuter rail line that can run in the middle of Interstate 275.

After all, Miami/Ft. Lauderdale has Tri-Rail.  Orlando now has SunRail.  Why can’t Tampa/St. Petersburg?  Our region needs rail based mass transit if we want to be competitive with other Florida metropolitan areas.

The Selmon Crosstown to Interstate 4 Connector

Happy New Year!  Hopefully everyone got the New Year off to a great start!
On Monday, 6 January 2014 the Selmon Crosstown Expressway to Interstate 4 connector opened for traffic.  This highway is a much needed relief not only for the trucks that need direct access to the Port of Tampa but for the residents of the area surrounding 21st Street and 22nd Street in Tampa’s Ybor City District that have had to put up with the trucks moving between Interstate 4 and the Port of Tampa.  Despite the detours such as onto FL 60 from the Crosstown at various times during construction the end result is an accessible product that fits into the Tampa Bay region’s highway puzzle.
Additionally, the Selmon Crosstown/Interstate 4 connector also provides for a hurricane evacuation route for those coming from St. Petersburg and southern Pinellas County.  Now that it’s 2014, in August it will be ten years since Hurricane Charley attempted to set its sights on the Tampa Bay region; remember the traffic backups if you were one of the folks that had to evacuate?
In fact, I took a ride on the newly opened Selmon to Interstate 4 connector the day it opened.  I can tell you one thing:  The connector allows you to transition from Interstate 4 to the Selmon Crosstown Expressway and vice versa seamlessly.  It’s well worth the toll!
In order to use the Selmon/Interstate 4 connector you will need a SunPass, as no cash tolls are collected as is the standard practice now on the Selmon Crosstown Expressway.  If you don’t have a SunPass, that’s no problem; license plate readers mounted on the electronic toll gantry will read your license plate and send you a bill for the toll.
However, having the SunPass is the best:  Not only you don’t have to pay the $1.25 toll for toll-by-plate; you can also avoid the $2.50 administrative charge.  The toll for the Selmon/Interstate 4 connector for those with a SunPass is only $1.00!
OK.  While the new Selmon/Interstate 4 connector is open, you can only go a certain way from the Crosstown to Interstate 4 and vice versa.  This blog entry will help you in which way you can go:
Eastbound Selmon Crosstown can use the connector to transition to eastbound Interstate 4.
Eastbound Interstate 4 can use the connector to transition to eastbound Selmon Crosstown using the local lanes only.  There is no access to the express lanes on the Selmon Crosstown.
Westbound Selmon Crosstown can use the connector to transition to westbound Interstate 4 to Interstate 275, including Tampa International Airport.  There is no access to the connector from the Selmon Crosstown’s express lanes.
Westbound Interstate 4 can use the connector to transition to westbound Selmon Crosstown to downtown Tampa as well as to St. Petersburg via Gandy Blvd. (US 92).
This cannot be over-emphasized enough:  There is no access to the Selmon/Interstate 4 connector from the Selmon Crosstown’s express lanes.  Access to the Selmon/Interstate 4 connector from the Selmon Crosstown is only from the Selmon Crosstown’s local lanes.
If you haven’t been out to check out the new Selmon/Interstate 4 connector, you owe it to yourself to check it out!

Thanksgiving 2013 Travel Tips

Over the river and thru the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go…

It’s that time of year again, and no matter where you’re going for Thanksgiving Day we at Interstate275Florida.com and the Interstate 275 Florida Blog wish you a Happy Thanksgiving!  Hopefully you managed to make it through the delays due to the severe weather going on in the eastern half of the United States.  Luckily, here in Florida we don’t have to contend with the snow but the high wind warnings on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge were back as high winds persisted through the Tampa Bay region.
For those of you out there that haven’t set out yet, here are some important tips when you set out on the Tampa Bay region’s highways including Interstate 275, whether it may be a short trip across town or a long trip across the state (or even across the country):
1.  If your trip involves car travel, check to be sure that your car is in tip top shape.  That means checking all the essential fluids such as your oil level among other things.  That will save you from a mechanical breakdown, especially when you are hundreds of miles from home.
Plan how you will get to Grandma’s.  You can use Google Maps or your favorite map program out there on the Internet.
You’ll also want to check to make sure that your windshield washer is topped off.  Also check your spare tire and make sure that there are no defects and check your regular tires to make sure that they are inflated properly and that there are no defects as well.
Also check all your lights including your headlights and turn signals too.  Make sure that everything is in working order.
If you got OnStar (the best thing out there since the invention of the motor vehicle), check to make sure that it works.  Simply press the black OnStar phone button; if you hear the phrase “OnStar ready” you’re in business!  If you need to add more minutes to your OnStar hands free calling do so; it’s much better to use your OnStar hands free calling rather than using your cell phone while driving.  In fact, in several states (including California) hands free is not an option – it’s the law.
Also be sure that your SunPass is topped off as needed.  Having a SunPass gets you through Florida’s toll roads much quicker (and you can save some money in the process too!) and if you are driving toll roads in South Florida as well as the Selmon Crosstown Expressway here in Tampa you need a SunPass – no cash is collected as these toll roads are all open road tolling.
Get a good night’s rest – you will need it!
2.  Allow plenty of time to get to your destination safely.  Especially with the recent severe weather gripping the nation’s eastern half, everything will more than likely be crowded no matter which way you get to Grandma’s:  Interstate 275, Southwest Airlines (or your airline), or Amtrak.
3.  If you’re traveling via Southwest Airlines (or any other airline), be sure to get to the airport early.  That way, you can get checked in especially if you have baggage to check and clear security in order to get to your gate.  Be sure to check in for your flight 24 hours in advance of your flight’s departure (by the way, if you have Early Bird Check In on Southwest, this is done for you – all you got to do is print your boarding pass either at home or at the airport).
Airport parking – especially parking at Tampa International Airport – will more than likely be at a premium thanks to the Thanksgiving holidays.  If at all possible, take a taxi or SuperShuttle or have a friend drive you to the airport.
4.  If you’re traveling via Amtrak out of Tampa Union Station, be sure to arrive early.  If you have already printed your eTicket from the Amtrak website and you have no baggage to check, simply show your eTicket to the conductor for scanning and you’re all set!  However, if you have baggage to check be sure to arrive in plenty of time so that the station agent can check in your items.
Like Tampa International Airport, parking at Tampa Union Station will more than likely be at a premium due to the Thanksgiving holidays.  You might want to take a taxi or have a friend drive you to the train station.
5.  While you are out and about on the road, in the event of an accident give the Florida Highway Patrol a call at *FHP (*347) on your cell phone.  However, in the event of an accident involving serious injury always call 911!  By the way, *FHP can also be used in case your car breaks down on the highway; a Road Ranger will be dispatched to your location.
If you happen to own a car that is equipped with OnStar and you have a breakdown, simply press the blue OnStar button and an OnStar representative will send out assistance to where you’re located.  In the event of an accident, press the red OnStar emergency button and a specially trained OnStar representative will send emergency help to where you’re located.
If it’s a long road trip to Grandma’s, consider taking a break for every three or four hours of driving.  Feel free to stop at a rest area, a welcome center (particularly if you crossed into another state such as Georgia), a service plaza (like that on the Florida Turnpike), an interstate interchange oasis (such as what you will find on Interstate 75 at Exit 329, which is FL 44 to Wildwood) or even a small town if it’s close by.
6.  While we’re on the same topic of being out and about on the road, if you see an impaired or aggressive driver please call *FHP (if life or property is in immediate danger, call 911).  After all, the Florida Highway Patrol wants to know and FHP will send a Trooper out to apprehend the driver, hopefully before there is a serious accident.
Stay within the speed limit – after all, there’s nothing to be gained nor you will get to Grandma’s quicker by going faster than the flow of traffic.
Be mindful of Florida’s Move Over Law:  If you see emergency vehicles on the side of the road, move over and give these workers room.
Most importantly, don’t drink and drive!  Remember:  Over the limit = under arrest!
7.  If you have a Florida driver’s license, did you know that you can update your emergency contact information?  This enables law enforcement officers to notify your loved ones in the event you are in a serious accident.  What are you waiting for?  Enter your emergency contact information today!
8.  Pay attention to the gigantic green overhead signs mounted over the highway, especially if you are on Interstate 275 in the Tampa Bay region.  Pay special attention to the word “Left” in black letters on a yellow background:  This means that the exit you are approaching is a left exit and you must be in the left lane to exit the highway.
Please be mindful of the construction taking place on Interstate 275 in Tampa between the FL 60/Tampa Airport (Exit 39) and downtown Tampa (Exit 44) exits.  There has been a recent traffic pattern change for northbound motorists right after you cross Dale Mabry Highway (Exit 41).
Once you exit Interstate 275 or any other limited access highway, reduce your speed for the off ramp as well as the street you have exited onto.
9.  Helpful websites:
Interstate275Florida.com:  See what your exit looks like at your destination before you hit the road.
Tampa Bay Interstates:  Information from the Florida DOT on interstate construction in the Tampa Bay region.
Florida 511:  Information on interstate conditions not only from the Tampa Bay region but the rest of the State of Florida as well.
As Thanksgiving is the gateway to the holiday season, have a happy Thanksgiving and a wonderful holiday season!  Let’s be careful out there on Interstate 275 and drive safely!

Raise the speed limit to 75 mph? Why Not!

Let’s face it.  The speed limit on Interstate 275 is 65 mph in Pinellas County and 55 mph in Hillsborough County, save for a small stretch of Interstate 275 at Interstate 4 (Exit 45B) where it drops to 50 mph due to the sharp curves despite the improvements made.  There are two locations where Interstate 275’s speed limit is 70 mph:  From US 19 south (Exit 5) to Interstate 275’s southern terminus at Interstate 75 in Manatee County and from the Livingston Road underpass a couple of miles north of Bearss Avenue (Exit 53) to Interstate 275’s northern terminus at Interstate 75 at the Hillsborough-Pasco County line.
South of the Livingston Road underpass the speed limit on Interstate 275 drops to 65 mph, then to 60 mph, and by the time you get to Busch Boulevard (FL 580, Exit 50) the speed limit drops to 55 mph.
Too slow?  Remember back to the days when both Interstate 275 and Interstate 75 had the 55 mph speed limit, put there by federal mandate.  Today the states, including Florida, can decide what speed limit to put up on their interstate highways.
But things might change, if Florida State Senator Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg gets his way, according to this Bay News 9 article.
From reading the article, it would mean that highways signed for 70 mph would increase to 75 mph.  Highways signed for 60 mph and 65 mph would see increases of 5 mph to 65 and 70 mph respectively.
I agree many more:  65 or 70 mph is still slow by today’s standards.  But the bill being proposed by Senator Brandes I feel needs one more tweak:  Raise the speed limit on Alligator Alley – the tolled section of Interstate 75 between Naples and Ft. Lauderdale, currently at 70 mph – to 85 mph.  Besides, Alligator Alley is four lanes of practically endless Everglades with one exception at Snake Road (Exit 49) where a gas station and convenience store are located.  Besides, Alligator Alley would be the only place in Florida with an 85 mph speed limit.
Want proof that there is a section of highway in the US of A signed at 85 mph?  There is indeed one place:  A toll road in Texas between San Antonio and Austin, Texas State Highway 130 on the segment between Mustang Ridge and Seguin.
I think the speed limit on Florida’s interstate highways including Interstate 275 should be raised somehow.  And it’s overdue.
But wait until the law gets passed and the Florida DOT changes the signs, of course.

The Exit 59 Headache

Here’s an article I found at Bay News 9 by their Real Time Traffic Expert Chuck Henson on the problems encountered at Exit 59, which is the exit to FL 56 and Interstate 275’s northern end together with Interstate 75.  Why all the mess?
Good question, if you may ask.
As you probably know, Interstate 275 from Bearss Avenue (Exit 53) to the northern terminus at Interstate 75 and FL 56 (Exit 59) has been widened from four lanes to six lanes.  In general, Interstate 275 is six lanes almost throughout its entire 59 mile route through St. Petersburg and Tampa, save for some minor four lane sections along the route.
For the commuter returning home to Wesley Chapel from downtown Tampa having six lanes on Interstate 275 is ideal.  Unfortunately, just before you reach Exit 59 the three lanes northbound quickly dissolve into two lanes thanks to a right lane ends warning sign.  Just after the right lane merges into the center lane then the exit for FL 56 (Exit 59), with the two through lanes funneling traffic onto northbound Interstate 75.  According to the Bay News 9 article, traffic on northbound Interstate 275 approaching Exit 59 experiences delays, especially during peak commute times, thanks to the lane drop before the exit.
Why couldn’t the Florida DOT complete the northbound three lanes of Interstate 275 and let the right lane drop at Exit 59 as an exit only lane?  According to the Bay News 9 article, Kris Carson of the Florida DOT mentions that the remainder of the northbound three lanes of Interstate 275 from where it ends now to the FL 56 exit is the small part of the larger widening project.  It should have been completed as part of the project already, and it’s practically easy enough.
While we’re on the subject of Interstate 275’s northern terminus at Interstate 75 and FL 56, I believe more should have been done:
1.  Add a ramp from northbound Interstate 275 to southbound Interstate 75 providing direct access rather than having to turn around at FL 56.
2.  Add a flyover ramp from northbound Interstate 75 to southbound Interstate 275, again providing a direct access flyover rather than having to turn around at FL 56.
3.  Make the County Line Road overpass a full overpass bridge crossing both Interstate 75 and 275 mainlines.  When the County Line Road overpass was built in the 1980’s as part of the Interstate 75 southward expansion project it was rebuilt into two overpasses, one crossing the Interstate 75 mainline and southbound Interstate 275 ramp and the smaller overpass crossing the northbound Interstate 275 ramp feeding traffic onto northbound Interstate 75.  Having a full overpass bridge would allow for future expansion, not to mention a potential interchange.
Adding the additional ramps to Interstate 275’s northern terminus at Interstate 75 would make the interchange a full fledged interchange at Interstate 75’s Exit 274, similar to Interstate 275’s southern terminus in Manatee County at Interstate 75’s Exit 228.  Moreover, adding the additional ramps would make life easier for New Tampa residents with another commute choice to downtown Tampa using Interstate 275 as opposed to Interstate 75 south to Interstate 4.
Don’t forget to complement the commute choices with rail based transit.  Sure we can widen and improve Interstate 275 but we can do only so much.  But adding the ramps at Interstate 275’s northern terminus would provide free flow access rather than have motorists go through two traffic signals at FL 56 as part of the interchange.

The end of the Motorist Aid Call Box in Florida?

The trusty, yet reliable motorist aid call box.  You see them on Interstate 275 as well as Interstate 75 and Florida’s Turnpike.
These motorist aid devices that dot the Florida interstate landscape have been around for years.  If you broke down on, let’s say Interstate 275 between Interstate 75 and Bearss Avenue (Exit 53) in Tampa or Interstate 75 and US 19 (Exit 5) in Bradenton, all you did was pull up to the nearest call box, pull the handle down, press the appropriate button for the service you needed such as police, medical or a tow truck, return to your car and safely wait for assistance.

I was surprised to find out that the Florida DOT is in the works of getting rid of the motorist aid call boxes on Florida’s interstate highways come January 2014, according to this 10 News (WTSP-TV, the CBS affiliate here in St. Petersburg) article by reporter Kathryn Bursch.  In fact, the photo you see above was used in the article as well as the story that aired on 10 News!  (By the way, I was surprised when I got the phone call from Kathryn asking me for permission to use the above photo for the story she was developing about the Florida DOT getting rid of the call boxes – I thought the call boxes would stay in addition to the other motorist aid services offered to motorists on Florida’s interstates – it was a great article by the way).
What I really think the Florida DOT is doing is a big mistake.  Why?
Realize that we live in an era of cell phones, BlackBerries and OnStar.  (Believe me, OnStar is the best communication item to have in your car since the invention of the automobile – if you need help such as a flat tire or you are involved in an accident, just press the OnStar emergency button and a representative is right there).  Things have changed since the emergency call boxes were installed on Florida’s interstate highways by the Florida DOT many years ago, not to mention the many variable message signage, cameras and roving patrols by Florida DOT Road Rangers in several Florida areas.
However, there is a drawback to not having call boxes on Florida’s interstate highways:
1.  You got a cell phone or OnStar?  Great!  Now what if you are in an area where there is no cellular coverage?  Your phone won’t work and you want to be sure that you have access to help if needed.
2.  You are driving a car that does not have OnStar, and your cell phone battery went out on you.  If you are on a long, yet exit-less stretch of interstate highway such as the section of Interstate 75 in South Florida from Exit 101 to Exit 49 also known as the Alligator Alley, you better count on the nearest call box to come to your aid in case of an emergency.
There is an exit between Exits 101 and 49 on Interstate 75, and that’s Exit 82, FL 29.  Unfortunately, there are no motorist services located at FL 29 – now there is a meaning to the black lettering on yellow background signs on southbound Interstate 75 before Exit 101 in Naples that tell you to check your fuel gauge, no services for the next 50 miles.
In short, motorist aid call boxes are like an insurance policy for your trip.  Unfortunately, the Florida DOT wants to take away this motorist safety aid in the name of saving money down the road.  However, there is no monetary savings realized if motorists can’t have an opportunity to access any aid at the first opportunity.
However, there is one place where the motorist aid call boxes will remain:  The Sunshine Skyway Bridge, as these call boxes are actual phones that serve a dual purpose, not only for motorist aid but for crisis intervention as these phones connect directly to The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay and are staffed 24/7/365 by trained counselors.
On a side note, thinking about pulling over onto the shoulder of the Sunshine Skyway’s main span to get that great picturesque view of St. Petersburg or the Gulf of Mexico?  Don’t!  Cameras monitored by the Florida Highway Patrol monitor both northbound and southbound traffic and any stopping on the shoulder will result in a Florida Highway Patrol trooper being sent out to investigate.  Instead, the rest areas on either end of the Sunshine Skyway main span provide great photo opportunities.
I think the Florida DOT is making a mistake by removing the motorist aid call boxes.  The motorist aid call boxes are peace of mind for motorists, especially motorists who do not even have a cell phone to begin with.

The Howard Frankland Bridge: An Important Piece of the Tampa Bay Region Transportation Puzzle

By now you more than likely have heard about a potential replacement of the northbound span of the Howard Frankland Bridge, which carries Interstate 275 traffic between St. Petersburg and Tampa.  Of course the Howard Frankland Bridge – known informally over the years as the Frankenstein and the Car Strangled Banner in the Howard Frankland’s single four lane span heydays – is an important piece of the Tampa Bay region’s transportation puzzle and will remain so for the foreseeable future.
Replacement of the northbound span of the Howard Frankland Bridge?  Let me give you a brief historical backgrounder, which you can also find on the Howard Frankland page at Interstate275Florida.com

A brief backgrounder of the Howard Frankland Bridge
As the Tampa Bay region’s interstate highways began to take shape with the introduction of Interstate 4 into Tampa and terminating in St. Petersburg, a third crossing of Tampa Bay was a necessity.  In the late 1950’s the needed real estate was available to develop the Tampa Bay region’s interstate highways piece by piece.
With that in mind, the Howard Frankland Bridge was constructed as a slender four lane span with a low raised concrete divider as the center divider.  The Howard Frankland Bridge opened to traffic in 1960 which essentially brought Interstate 4 to St. Petersburg, terminating at where Exit 31 (Ulmerton Road/FL 688 and Martin Luther King St N) is located today.  Within months of opening head on collisions were getting to be commonplace on the bridge, which led to a Jersey barrier wall being constructed in the center divider with the barrier wall being topped by a low rise fence in the 1970’s.
The Howard Frankland’s notorious distinction for so many accidents and traffic backups and mega-delays on either side of the bridge led the Florida DOT to construct a second parallel span – which is higher and more modern that does meet interstate highway standards – and the span was opened to traffic in 1991.  The original 1960 span would be refurbished and converted into a span carrying northbound Interstate 275 traffic.
Fast forward from 1960 and 1991 to today
The original 1960 Howard Frankland Bridge – despite improvements done in 1991 and 1992 to refurbish the span – is nearing the end of its service life.  Despite the eight lanes that the Howard Frankland Bridge is now, the Tampa Bay region’s growth continues at an unprecedented rate (with the only exception being the recent economic downturn).
There are plans in the works, according to the Florida DOT, to replace the original 1960 span with a newer, more modern span that better meets interstate standards.  Presently on the Howard Frankland’s northbound span is only one emergency breakdown lane and its width is a recipe for major northbound gridlock backed up as far as Exit 32 (4 St N/FL 687) in St. Petersburg if a major accident occurs on the bridge.
The replacement northbound span is supposed to follow the curvature and height of the 1991 southbound span and it is supposed to look similar.  However, the Florida DOT has the chance to seize the opportunity:  A transit corridor that carries light rail or even commuter rail between St. Petersburg and Tampa.
How can a new Howard Frankland span play a role in the quest for rail based mass transit in the Tampa Bay region
The Howard Frankland Bridge is an important piece of the Tampa Bay region’s transportation puzzle.  And it will become a more important piece of the transportation puzzle if and when rail based mass transit is introduced to the Tampa Bay region.
You probably have this thought in your mind:  Our area doesn’t need rail based mass transit; simply more buses will do.  You are wrong.  Rail based mass transit is a choice of intra-regional travel that we residents of the Tampa Bay region do not have, unlike the residents of Miami-Ft. Lauderdale who have Tri-Rail and Orlando who are just about to have SunRail.
Realize that valuable real estate is at a premium today despite the real estate crisis that drove down property values.  Even with the improvements going on at Interstate 275 in Tampa you can expand Interstate 275 so much that you can get away with a total of eight lanes, which equates to four lanes in each direction.  But eight lanes of Interstate 275 isn’t enough.
You can solve the Tampa Bay region’s transit issues by putting more buses on the roads, including the use of so-called “bus rapid transit” or dedicated bus lanes.  However, when buses exit the dedicated bus lanes buses are subject to the same traffic delays as other motorists are subjected to daily.  However, simply adding more buses – including the express buses from St. Petersburg (operated by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, or PSTA) or Clearwater (operated by Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, or HART) to downtown Tampa – isn’t enough.
So enter rail based mass transit.  And I don’t care if it’s commuter rail, light rail or a combination of the two.
Miami/Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando are lucky.  But for Tampa/St. Petersburg as of today, the only options for rail transit are limited to excursion style rail trips as opposed to commuter style rail trips:  Either a day trip on Amtrak’s Silver Star (Trains 91 and 92) to Winter Haven and back, or a trip on a historical six mile stretch of railroad from Parrish to Willow round trip in northern Manatee County at the Florida Railroad Museum.
Besides, rail based mass transit would be a major economic shot in the arm for the Tampa Bay region.  We would see more and more major companies consider the Tampa Bay region more seriously in their relocation to Florida plans as commuters would have access to more choices.  We would see more and more people taking in professional sporting events such as at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg (home of the Tampa Bay Rays) or at Raymond James Stadium (home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) or the Tampa Bay Times Forum – formerly the St. Pete Times Forum (and the home of the Tampa Bay Lightning) – in Tampa, without the hassle and inconvenience of parking and the long trip back home after the game.
Imagine for a moment.  You live in, let’s say New Tampa.  You want to take in a baseball game across the bay in St. Petersburg at Tropicana Field.  The Tampa Bay Rays decided after all these years of “let’s move” that staying put at Tropicana Field is a much better option than anything else.  Simply hop in your car for a very short ride to the park and ride somewhere in New Tampa, where you pick up a light rail train that follows Bruce B. Downs Blvd. into downtown Tampa.  There you switch to a commuter rail train and enjoy a leisurely ride across Tampa Bay using a dedicated rail transit envelope corridor on the Howard Frankland Bridge to St. Petersburg and the Gateway Transit Station located in the Carillon office complex.  Then you switch to a light rail train that takes you straight to Tropicana Field in downtown St. Petersburg, get off and make your way to your seat in the 300 Upper Deck Level.  Enjoy the pre-game festivities including the National Anthem and the game itself.
Furthermore, rail based mass transit can save residents in the Tampa Bay region money in the long run.  How can that be?
We depend on our cars for easy, yet dependable transportation to get us from Point A to Point B and vice versa.  But the downside of car ownership, besides the high gas prices, is car insurance which gets higher and higher at every renewal.  You might not realize this, but a major factor that drives your car insurance rates is how many miles do you drive one way to your work place daily.  The longer your commute to work is, the more you pay in auto insurance.
Let’s do the homework.  Assume that you live in New Tampa and that you work in downtown Tampa.  As the distance is a little considerable between New Tampa and downtown Tampa as opposed to living in downtown Tampa and walking to work (which is good for your health, but the costs of living in downtown Tampa are quite prohibitive), you would pay a good chunk of money every year in auto insurance premiums.  In order to help reduce your auto insurance premiums, you decide to commute to work in downtown Tampa on the light rail route that takes you down Bruce B. Downs.
OK.  Here’s another New Tampa resident scenario, but this time you commute to your workplace at the First Central Tower in downtown St. Petersburg.  Right now, if you commuted there by your own car five days a week, not only you would be paying for gasoline as well as wear and tear on your car, you would be paying a lot more in auto insurance due to the heavy commute.  In order for you to save money on your auto insurance (and save some extra cash for that vacation you and your family want to take for a long time), you decide to commute to work in downtown St. Petersburg using a system of light and commuter rail:
1.  From New Tampa, a light rail line via Bruce B. Downs Blvd. to downtown Tampa.
2.  At downtown Tampa, transfer seamlessly over to the commuter rail line which takes you to St. Petersburg by way of the newly created transit corridor on the Howard Frankland Bridge.  While you are seated (and concentrating on reading the morning newspaper), watch as you pass by backed up traffic on Interstate 275 during the morning commute.
3.  Once in St. Petersburg, arrive at the Gateway Transit Station in the Carillon office complex.  Transfer seamlessly to light rail for your trip to downtown St. Petersburg and to work at the First Central Tower at 360 Central Avenue.
And another thing I forgot to mention on the subject of why it costs to commute to work, especially if you work in downtown St. Petersburg or downtown Tampa:  You have to pay for parking in a parking garage.  Parking garage rents can quite considerably impact your personal bottom line, especially if you are working in a clerical position.
So, here’s a run down of what your expenses would be commuting to work in one of the downtowns, personal automobile vs. rail transit:
Personal Automobile:
1.  Wear and tear on your automobile, not to mention the miles you put on your odometer daily.
2.  Increased costs of car insurance.  Remember, the further your commute to work the more you pay for car insurance.
3.  Having to spend a good portion of your personal weekly budget on gasoline for your car.  After all, the cost of gasoline keeps climbing – you will wish there is a rail based alternative if and when gas hits $4.00 a gallon in the Tampa Bay region again.
4.  Monthly parking garage expenses, especially if your employer does not subsidize your parking.  Imagine working a clerical job in downtown St. Petersburg and you are paying $70 a month for parking.
Rail Transit:
1.  The cost of a monthly pass.
As you can see, the practical cost of commuting to work using rail based mass transit would just be the cost of a monthly transit pass.  In fact, more and more employers offer monthly passes to their employees at a discounted rate in order to entice them to give up driving to work in exchange for a leisurely, yet relaxing commute to work using rail based mass transit.
A rail based transit corridor on the Howard Frankland Bridge, as part of the planned reconstruction of the Howard Frankland’s northbound span, would be an important, yet necessary, part of the Tampa Bay region’s transportation puzzle.  It would change the face of the Tampa Bay region on an economic scale.
More uses of a rail based transit corridor for the Howard Frankland Bridge
Having rail based mass transit on a newly constructed rail corridor of the Howard Frankland Bridge would not only give the Tampa Bay region an economic shot in the arm, there are also plenty of other uses besides commuting to and from work.
Access to Tampa International Airport
Let’s say you want to take a vacation or you needed to go out of town on business.  You live in St. Petersburg.
Right now you have two options:  Drive yourself to the airport and pay $9 per day for parking in Tampa International Airport’s economy parking garage.  Or pay for taxi or shuttle fare and have them take you to the airport.
With rail based mass transit, that would give you yet another option to get to Tampa International Airport.  As you live in St. Petersburg, simply drive to the nearest light rail park and ride and catch the light rail over to the Gateway Transit Station in Carillon.  There seamlessly transfer to commuter rail for a relaxing trip across Tampa Bay instead of being stuck in gridlocked Interstate 275 traffic.  Arrive at Tampa International Airport and catch your flight.
And the cost?  A one way ticket from where you got on the light rail in St. Petersburg with transfers included.  And believe me, it would be a lot less than you paying for airport parking.  And you saved yourself the stress of getting to the airport on time to catch your flight.
Now let’s say you arrived in town and you are here on business.  Or you are here to take in our gorgeous beaches and take it easy.  Instead of the hassle of renting a car or taking a taxi or shuttle, simply hop on board rail transit to get you where you want to go.
And if you are staying at one of the many resorts out there on the beaches of the Pinellas Suncoast, you can decide to rent a car later if you would like to explore more.
We can’t forget Amtrak here.
The last time an Amtrak train served St. Petersburg was in February 1984.  Today Amtrak’s Silver Star serves Tampa’s Union Station twice daily, Train 91 southbound to Miami and Train 92 northbound to New York City.  For those of you in St. Petersburg that want to take a ride on Amtrak, you can either have someone drive you to Tampa or take the bus that runs from the Amtrak ticket office located in a shopping plaza on 110 Av N and US 19 in Pinellas Park.

Now how can we attract Amtrak as another transportation choice in St. Petersburg?  The dedicated rail corridor on the Howard Frankland Bridge would help.  Amtrak service to St. Petersburg can be viable using both a Howard Frankland crossing and the existing CSX Clearwater Subdivision tracks, upgraded to passenger standards.

With that in mind, here are a few Amtrak related ideas as far as a new Howard Frankland rail corridor is concerned:

1.  Connect the existing CSX A Line tracks from Tampa Union Station over to a widened Interstate 275 median.  The widened median is taking shape as a result of the construction underway on Interstate 275 in Tampa from Westshore Blvd. to downtown Tampa, scheduled to be wrapped up in 2016.

2.  Connect and upgrade the track that runs north of the Neve Wye into the Clearwater Subdivision.  That way, Amtrak can run service into St. Petersburg like a serpentine circle and at the same time get rid of that reverse move into Tampa Union Station.

Presently all Amtrak trains serving Tampa Union Station have to be turned at the Neve Wye, a rail spur and turnaround point located east of Ybor City, and backed into the station.  While Tampa is a station stop on the Silver Star, Tampa’s Union Station is what is classified as a stub in facility as opposed to a run through facility as is the case of most railroad stations in the United States.

3.  Increase Amtrak’s frequency of Florida service by having the Silver Star’s partner, the Silver Meteor, serve Tampa instead of bypassing it as it is now.

4.  Both southbound trains can enter the Neve Wye, follow the track to a crossover track to the CSX Clearwater Subdivision, then proceed on that track to a new station stop in St. Petersburg.  Then proceed on the new Howard Frankland rail corridor to Tampa and Tampa Union Station.  After Tampa, proceed southbound to Lakeland, Winter Haven, Sebring and all intermediate points to Miami.

5.  Both northbound trains can stop in Tampa first.  After Tampa follow the new Howard Frankland rail corridor to St. Petersburg and a new station stop.  Then follow the CSX Clearwater Subdivision and over the new crossover track to the Neve Wye and eastbound on the CSX A Line to Kissimmee, Orlando, Jacksonville and points north to New York City.

6.  What about the resurrection of Amtrak’s Sunset Limited as a true cross country transcontinental route?  As you know, the eastern terminus of the Sunset Limited is in New Orleans since 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit.  Let’s extend the Sunset Limited back to Florida and make Miami the terminus.  Here’s how it can be done:

East on the CSX line from New Orleans and across Mississippi and Alabama and into Florida at Pensacola.  Continue east to Jacksonville.

At Jacksonville route the Sunset Limited onto the CSX S Line and follow it south via Ocala and Wildwood.  At Dade City use the Vitis Subdivision track (the track that connects Dade City with Lakeland) and turn west onto the CSX A Line towards Tampa.

The Eastbound Sunset Limited can follow the route to St. Petersburg first, then Tampa, and on to Miami.  Likewise, the westbound Sunset Limited can reverse the direction, stopping in Tampa first, then St. Petersburg, then following the Clearwater Subdivision to the S Line north to Jacksonville.

I just wanted to throw in a discussion of Amtrak service and how some ideas for expanded Amtrak service in Florida can become reality thanks to a new Howard Frankland rail corridor.  Granted, Amtrak has good service into Florida with two trains daily but there’s plenty of room for improvement as far as service is concerned.

The Howard Frankland Bridge’s future as a road and rail corridor

Now that the Florida DOT is considering the replacement of the original 1960 Howard Frankland span, the opportunity for improvements including turning the Howard Frankland into a multi purpose road and rail corridor is here.  And it can be done.

I spoke at one of the Florida DOT public hearings on the replacement of the Howard Frankland Bridge not too long ago.  With the exception of a couple of people who spoke at the public hearing, most including me are in agreement that rail based mass transit is the Tampa Bay region’s answer to a good shot in the Tampa/St. Petersburg economic arm.

Rail based mass transit will make the Tampa Bay region competitive with other Florida metropolitan areas.  Rail based mass transit will attract more and more companies to consider moving their headquarters or major operations to our area over Orlando or Miami.

Sure we got Interstate 275.  You can widen it all you want, but that alone won’t help the Tampa Bay region’s mass transit woes.

Sure we have buses.  But buses are subject to the same traffic delays as everyone else, even with so-called “bus rapid transit” when buses exit the dedicated bus lanes to get to their intended destinations.

The framework is here.  That framework is a regional transit authority called the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority, or TBARTA for short.  What TBARTA could do is a merger of both PSTA and HART to create a seamless transit service throughout the region.

Imagine one day you live in New Tampa and you want to go to a Tampa Bay Rays game at Tropicana Field.  Instead of hopping in your car and driving Interstate 275 to St. Petersburg and paying for parking at Tropicana Field, you can hop on a mixture of light and commuter rail right to the game.

Imagine one day you live in the Gandy area of St. Petersburg and you work in downtown St. Petersburg.  Instead of paying outrageously high parking garage fees downtown, you can hop on the light rail and arrive downtown, refreshed and ready to face the work day.

Imagine one day … when and if light and commuter rail transit is implemented in the Tampa Bay region, the way we move about in the Tampa Bay region will change.

Now that our economy is rebounding, we here in the Tampa Bay region need to seize the opportunity.  And that opportunity is rail based mass transit.

What destinations to place on the Interstate 375 signage

If you haven’t noticed lately, you have seen the destination signage for eastbound Interstate 375 from southbound Interstate 275 in downtown St. Petersburg:

There are two destinations on the signage which no longer exist, according to this St. Petersburg Times article:
1.  BayWalk:  This was an upscale shopping and dining complex together with a movie theater.  Unfortunately, the economic downturn proved to be disastrous for BayWalk which led to so many shops closing and inability to attract new retailers.
St. Petersburg business mogul Bill Edwards (whose money paid for an entry monument on Interstate 275 at the northern entrance to St. Petersburg, just north of 4 St N (Exit 32)) purchased the struggling BayWalk complex and is in the process of reconstructing the complex, which it will become the Shoppes of St. Petersburg.
The movie theater – Muvico’s Baywalk 20 – is the only tenant still remaining.
2.  The Pier:  Practically needs no explanation, other than the fact that the people of St. Petersburg voted down the new Pier project, commonly called The Lens.  The Pier closed in May 2013 but its future is uncertain, depending on the will of the people of St. Petersburg.
So, we have destinations for Interstate 375 east that don’t exist!  As such, the signage will have to be changed; I have some ideas for new destinations that should be on the signage for Interstate 375:
Vinoy/Straub Park
St. Anthony’s Hospital
Vinoy/Straub Park
I threw in St. Anthony’s Hospital, as it is a nonprofit hospital.  I am not sure if you can put the name of a nonprofit hospital on an Interstate highway sign, but I believe you can’t put the name of a for-profit hospital on an Interstate highway sign (Imagine for a moment signage for Northside Hospital at Exit 26 (54 Av N)!)
Fine Arts Museum
Vinoy/Straub Park
OK.  What are your ideas for updating the destination signage for Interstate 375 on Interstate 275 in downtown St. Petersburg?  Feel free to leave a reply!

What Counties does Interstate 75 (and 275) pass through in Florida?

Here’s a little trivia and other stuff that I would like to feature from time to time right here on the Interstate 275 Florida Blog.  Today I would like to feature the names of the various Florida counties that Interstate 75 passes through, including Interstate 275 in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area.
I’d thought I would like to work my way northbound starting at the American national southern terminus of Interstate 75, which is at FL 826 (also known as the Palmetto Expressway) in Miami-Dade County.  After all, Interstate 75 is a major Interstate highway which spans not only Florida but Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan, ending at the Canadian border north of Exit 394, Easterday Avenue, in Sault St. Marie, Chippewa County, Michigan.
So, here we go northbound on Interstate 75 from FL 826 in Miami, Miami-Dade County, Florida:
Miami-Dade (Miami)
Broward (Ft. Lauderdale)
Collier (Naples)
Lee (Ft. Myers)
Charlotte (Port Charlotte/Punta Gorda)
DeSoto (just the extreme southwest corner for less than a quarter of a mile)
Manatee (Bradenton)
Pinellas (Interstate 275 only; St. Petersburg)
Hillsborough (Tampa)
Pasco (Wesley Chapel)
Sumter (Wildwood; northern terminus of the Florida Turnpike)
Marion (Ocala)
Alachua (Gainesville)
Columbia (Lake City, junction of Interstate 10)
Florida/Georgia State Line – north of Hamilton County, Florida is Lowndes County, Georgia (Valdosta)
Did you know?
Interstate 75 was supposed to go through Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties before traversing the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and linking up with the Interstate 75 bypass route in Manatee County?  When it was proposed that Interstate 75 was to be extended south to Miami from Tampa the bypass route around Tampa was supposed to be called Interstate 75E.
A lot of factors came into play in why we are one of the metropolitan areas in the United States that has a 2-di as the bypass route and a 3-di being the main route through:
1.  Sometime after the extension of Interstate 75 to Miami from Tampa was proposed, AASHTO – the American Association of State Highway Traffic Officials, the gatekeeper of all Interstate route numbering in conjunction with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) – made a change to the standards for Interstate route numbering:  No more suffixed letters after the number.  That meant the Florida DOT cannot have an Interstate 75E signed.
Just in case you are wondering, Interstates 35E and 35W in the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex in Texas and Minneapolis-St. Paul in Minnesota were grandfathered before the AASHTO prohibition on suffixed Interstate route numbers.
2.  The Florida DOT’s desire to keep through truck traffic out of the metropolitan areas of Tampa and St. Petersburg once Interstate 75 was extended to Miami.
By the way, Interstate 275 is known on official Florida DOT documentation as FL 93, which covers the entire 472-mile distance of Interstate 75 through the state.  The Tampa bypass which we know today as Interstate 75 is known on official Florida DOT documentation as FL 93A.
3.  And we can’t forget the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, back in its early days as a twin cantilever span with the steel grid deck in the center.  These twin cantilever bridges would have required major retrofits in order to bring the bridges up to interstate standards.
However, 9 May 1980 – the day the Skyway fell – changed the plan somewhat.  For a while after the Sunshine Skyway disaster it was proposed that Interstate 275 would not have incorporated the Sunshine Skyway; that completely changed when it was decided that the cable stayed bridge we know today would be the replacement for both twin cantilever spans.
Today, the Sunshine Skyway Bridge is not only an integral part of Interstate 275, it also carries US 19 as well.  And it passes through three counties:  Pinellas on the north, Hillsborough in the center span, and Manatee on the south.
Now you know your Florida counties that Interstate 75 passes through, including Interstate 275!  Be sure to stick around for more trivia and other stuff that I may feature from time to time right here on the Interstate 275 Florida Blog!

Interstate 275 Tampa Mainline Closure Alert

If your travels take you on Interstate 275 going by the Westshore Blvd. interchange (Exit 40A), you need to read this.  I have seen the variable message overhead signs letting motorists know of an upcoming temporary closure on Interstate 275 in Tampa.
According to Tampa Bay Interstates (the official source for Tampa Bay area interstate construction from the Florida DOT), the Interstate 275 mainline will be closed at Westshore Blvd. (Exit 40A) from 11:30 PM Tuesday evening, 20 August 2013 to 5:30 AM Wednesday morning, 21 August 2013.  The mainline closure is being done as part of the mega-reconstruction project taking place on Interstate 275 in Tampa from FL 60 to the Hillsborough River just west of the Ashley/Tampa/Scott interchange complex (Exit 44), which is supposed to be completed sometime in 2016.
So, what detour do you follow when the Interstate 275 mainline in Tampa is closed during the above hours?  Here is the detour you should follow, according to Tampa Bay Interstates:
Northbound Interstate 275:  You will be directed off at Exit 39 (FL 60). Use the Kennedy Blvd. exit, not the exit for Tampa International Airport.  Follow Kennedy Blvd. east to Westshore Blvd.  At Westshore Blvd. turn north and you can rejoin Interstate 275 northbound there.
If you are headed to Tampa International Airport from St. Petersburg, you should not be affected by the upcoming Interstate 275 mainline closure as all traffic will be diverted from the northbound Interstate 275 mainline to the Exit 39 collector-distributor ramp.  However, be sure to allow extra time and leave early, especially if you are headed to TIA to catch your flight.
Southbound Interstate 275:  You will be directed off at Exit 40A, Westshore Blvd.  Make a right at Westshore Blvd., then a left at Cypress Street (that’s the first traffic signal after getting off of Interstate 275).  West on Cypress Street until you get to the overpass for FL 60.  Turn left after going under the overpass to rejoin Interstate 275 southbound.
Headed to Tampa International Airport from southbound Interstate 275 in Tampa:  You will be directed off at Exit 40A, Westshore Blvd. as mentioned previously.  Instead of going west on Cypress Street, proceed north on Westshore Blvd. until you get to Spruce Street (FL 616).  Left on Spruce Street, but be in your right lane after you make the turn.  Follow the overhead signage to Tampa International Airport.
If you are headed to Tampa International Airport to catch an early morning flight, plan ahead and leave early to account for any traffic delays you may encounter on the way.  Additionally, check with your airline for any specifics regarding your flight.
Like all major construction projects, sometimes there will be some inconveniences involved but in the end, we will have an Interstate 275 in the Tampa/St. Petersburg metropolitan area we can be proud of.